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New play chronicling the early life of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley comes to Liverpool

Her father was a famous radical philosopher, her mother the first real feminist, her half-sister had a child by Byron. And Mary Shelley herself?

Well, she eloped at 16 with the very married (his wife was expecting their second child) poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, fleeing across the Channel in the dead of night in a rowing boat.

If all that wasn’t dramatic enough for the teenager, she then penned one of the radical classics of English literature – Frankenstein – before she turned 20.

Now the author’s incredible personal story is being brought to the Liverpool stage by travelling theatre company Shared Experience in Mary Shelley.

“It was about five years ago I re-read Frankenstein and did that thing where you flick through the pages at the front that tell you a little bit about the author,” says director Polly Teale.

“And I just immediately thought, my God what an extraordinary story, and how fascinating that all those people not only knew each other but their lives were so deeply entwined.

“Also, it was realising just how extraordinarily young Mary had been, and Frankenstein had been born out of this period of exile from her father when she ran away with Shelley, very much against her father’s wishes.”

Mary Shelley was the daughter of radical William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died shortly after her daughter was born.

Godwin re-married but Mary never got on with her stepmother, and was close to her father – until her decision to run away with a married man.

Polly explains: “He was very severe in his reaction and refused to have any contact with them. It was about two years, during which Frankenstein was written, when I think she felt like she’d been cast out almost.

“And the writing of Frankenstein was partly about her desire to win back her father’s love. She dedicated it to him.”

The play explores Mary’s life between 16 and 19, and the circumstances which led her to pen the novel.

It’s written by Liverpool playwright Helen Edmundson, a regular collaborator with Shared Experience over the years, including productions of War and Peace and Mill on the Floss.

“I think she’s a wonderful writer,” says Polly. “In this play there’s a great sweep of history and all these quite complex ideas being expressed. But it’s very human.”

It’s also another strong female character (the Brontes and Jean Rhys have been previous subjects) for the women-led theatre company.

They haven’t deliberately gone out looking for strong women protagonists, Polly maintains, but she concedes the company ‘tends to be drawn to them’.

“There’s no doubt there’s a shortage of plays about women, and a lot of these stories are relatively unknown, so it’s rich pickings.”

How long that will last is unclear. Shared Experience has recently lost its Arts Council funding, but meanwhile the company carries on one production at a time.

Mary Shelley is at the Liverpool Playhouse from May 9-12. Call 0151 709 4776 or visit www.everymanplayhouse.com.